We were in town the other day visiting a batik printing studio/store when the shopkeeper showed us the cruise ship schedule and warned us to stay out of downtown the following Monday and Wednesday. “They’re not like you.” She said. “They swarm into town, browse through the shops and don’t really buy anything.”
Picking on cruise ship passengers is easy; they’re the ‘low hanging fruit’ of the tourist versus traveller debate. I’ve come across this tug-of-war before and in my opinion it’s a silly argument.
Us visitors – whether we’ve arrived with a backpack, on a boat or by jet – are all the same. We may be judged (and ranked?) on how we dress, our accents and our behaviour but because we don’t own property, we’re just guests and one day we’ll be expected to leave.
Perhaps it’s what we leave with that defines us?
Our trip from Ecuador to Grenada took a total of sixteen hours including three flights and a few tense moments with airport staff. When we arrived we felt as if we’d run a marathon, we were travel buzzed. The next day all it took was a reggae themed taxi ride to a local beach and a strange Brit pouring over-proof rum down my throat for my brain to tune into the local vibe.
I wanted more of this vibe.
In our travels we have learned that the sooner we got past being branded as typical tourists, the more interesting (and often less expensive) our experiences were going to be. It may be a silly argument, but being labeled a tourist is an uncomfortable stigma.
There I was standing at the bar dripping wet from my swim in the ocean holding a double Tanqueray in one hand and a bootleg rum in the other. It was likely that as far as the guy behind the bar was concerned I was a cruise ship passenger that had hit the ground running and not someone that was visiting for a month and (despite appearances) was in for a much gentler ride.
I had to distinguish myself to the bartender.
We talked about the island, upcoming festivals and cheap eats. I was still a tourist to him albeit one with a month to explore and he took pleasure in describing the best things to see and do – things he likes to see and do. He warned me of a ‘Disneyesque’ tour of a local rum factory and recommended we take a string of bumpy bus rides out into the country to see the real deal: where they make rum the old fashioned way.
Most travel articles or blogs would be doing a disservice to the reader if they didn’t pack into the fewest words possible the most details about a destination. They attempt to tease readers who are planning their next vacation along a well-worn path into the tourist traps that to the critical eye are quite obvious when you’re finally ‘on the ground’.
A balloon trip over a game reserve sounds far more romantic than a bumpy five-hour ride but the reward at the end of that drive is a close up view of a wild cat and her cubs. The reward at the end of the balloon ride is breakfast and cheap champagne. I’m still sharing pictures of that safari with our Kenyan friends.
Many tourist destinations (restaurants, guides, tours, etc.) that are celebrated in books and magazines raise their prices and stop trying harder. We see it all the time. Rarely will you read about complicated maneuvers that can save you money. Some tripadvisor.co.uk reviews confirmed the bar tender’s advice about the rum distillery and how the difficult journey was worth the effort.
Are we tourists or travelers? Yes we are. Do we feel more special that the short term visitors? Perhaps luckier. What do we gain then from staying a month in one place (other than a lot of leftovers in our fridge)? Certainly good friends!
Our luxury is the time and the imagination to fill our days. Our curiosity has taken us off the beaten track, to try new things and meet interesting people. Curiosity took us into the batik shop, up the back stairs and endeared us to the designer who owned the shop (we’re now Facebook friends).
Were we different to that shop keeper because we had bought something? Hopefully not. I would like to think that because we had taken the time to talk to her about her craft, the town and Grenada in general she accepted us differently. She did share some good advice!
The Caribbean, like every other destination we’ve chosen, is an intriguing place with an interesting history, rich culture and delicious local treats. We discovered this island through two books a friend of ours had written: Embarrassment of Mangoes and The Spice Necklace (Ann’s blog). We were attracted to Grenada by its uniqueness (and great scuba diving). We have since met other locals and filled our dance card with plans for new adventures.
Whatever we are, wherever we are, we know for certain that if you stay long enough in one place you will discover hidden treasures you won’t often read about. And discover, in the process, new friendships worth taking home with you.
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We were actually nominated twice (thank you!) so if you’re interested, please vote for the intrepidmom.ca that is now in the top 25.